My father was working in the government before he was killed. My mother was a primary school teacher. We are five boys in our family, and I am the second born.
In January 1991, a rebel group called the United Somali Congress (USC) overthrew the 21-year rule military government of Dictator Siyad Bare. The rebels split into various rival clans. The civil war continues today. It is estimated that between 350,000 and one million people have died since then as a result of the civil war, flood, drought and famine. Many others, like me, have been displaced.
I was only six years old when the war started; I cannot remember exactly what happened, but I know that the rebels shot my father to death. Thousands of people fled the fighting to neighboring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti in search of safety. That is when I became a refugee.
I got separated from my family when the war started. My mother went to check on my grandparents, and I was left behind with my father because I was sick. When my father was killed, my cousins took me with them. I don’t know where my mother and brothers are or whether they are alive or dead. I always pray to God to keep them safe and well.
I was brought up by my cousins in refugee camp in Kenya. The camp was overcrowded, which resulted in sickness, starvation, and poverty. Sometimes we could go for days without food or even water. Where the camp is located, it is very hot. If you stay there very long, you will drain out. The sweet part of your nature will go away; only the bitter part will remain. We suffered poor conditions and difficulties in the camp, and we moved to the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi in 1992 in search of work and better living conditions.
Refugees’ life in Nairobi is very difficult. Refugees don’t have work permits or legal status. The authorities do not help and sometimes are part of the problem. In 1996, my cousins found a way to send me to a refugee camp in Uganda with two friends of mine. There was an educational program in the camp; they used to teach us English under a tree because there were no regular classrooms.
Being a refugee is worse than being a prisoner. A prisoner might know how long he is going to be in jail. A prisoner has been in court; he has testified in his case, he has been given some kind of judgment. But if you are a refugee, you don’t know what will happen to you. Tomorrow is not in your hands. It’s in the hands of the politicians, or the government people back home, or in the hands of the agencies. You just live for today, and today is difficult.
At the age of 14, I was big enough to start working. I left the camp and I went to Kampala City, Uganda. I used to do any type of job that I could find, like shoe polishing or garbage collection. Sometimes when there was no work, I was forced to beg people in the streets for money. After about one year of struggling for survival, God helped me and I saved some money that I invested in a small business, selling bananas around the streets of the city. It was difficult for me to own even a small business because everyday I suffered attacks because I was a Somali refugee. My business and my life were often threatened.
At the age of 16, I got a job at a local bus company. My work was to change tires, load passengers’ baggage, and service the bus. When I was 18, my work became too dangerous. The rebels were hijacking buses every single day; a lot of my colleagues were killed. I feared for my life, so I quit my job. I went back to Kenya. I got a job at a local hotel, where I worked as a waiter for a monthly salary of 3,000 Kenyan shillings ($50). I worked daily for 20 hours with no weekends, leaves, or holidays. I was not given any type of benefits. If I accidentally broke a glass or plate, that money was deducted from my salary. Some months I used to work for free.
After three years, I had a total of 4,000 US dollars. I used $1,000 to buy a Kenyan passport with a visa to Guatemala, and $2,100 for the airfare. From Guatemala, I came to the United States and turned myself in to the authorities at the border.
I am a God-fearing man who is desperate to be given a chance to make up for the 20 years I have lost in my life. I am still a young man, and I know that I can make something out of myself if I am given the chance. I have encountered a lot of hardship in my life, am still suffering from the pain of losing the most important part of my life, my loved ones, my family.
I came to the States to look for protection, security and refuge. I left my country when I was just six years old. There is nothing else I would love in this world more than one day returning to my country when there is peace and security. I would like to learn my language, culture and tradition; I might even help my people in building back our nation.
Note: This story has been edited for length. Sadiq was brought to La Posada Providencia by immigration officials. Six months later, he was granted legal asylum. Sadiq says,“La Posada was my first home in the United States. The staff not only helped me with the material things I needed, but they encouraged me, provided training, etc. I would have had no other place to go…La Posada gave me hope.”
Sadiq has now moved on. He has a full-time job and was recently promoted to supervisor. He also works as an interpreter for Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, In Every Language, Kentucky Courts, Louisville Language Bank. He is enrolled in a community college and wants to earn a law degree in order to “help other refugees and immigrants.” He hopes that by the time he reaches his goal, the turmoil that has existed in Somalia throughout his life will be resolved, but he knows there will always be other civil wars…other famines…other repressive governments that threaten human rights.